The effort to require health insurance to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism in children received another grassroots boost this week from one of Oklahoma’s most respected child advocacy organizations.
At its legislative fall forum, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) placed the issue at the top of its priorities for the 2009 session of the Oklahoma Legislature. The forum, held on the campus of the University of Central Oklahoma in Edmond, brought together child advocates and lawmakers to discuss a variety of issues important to Oklahoma’s children.
Senator Jay Paul Gumm is the author of “Nick’s Law,” the bill that would have required health insurance to cover diagnosis and treatment of autism. A Democrat from Durant, Gumm participated in a panel discussion on special needs children during the two-day event. OICA, he said, has an unmatched reputation in standing up for children.
“The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is a strong and effective voice speaking for children who often have no voice,” he said. “They have been on board with ‘Nick’s Law’ since we started this effort. I am honored to stand alongside them and the parents of children with autism as we continue this battle next year.”
“Nick’s Law” – named for Nick Rohde, a 10-year-old Edmond boy with autism – passed the Oklahoma Senate on bipartisan votes on four separate occasions in 2008. Each time, House Republican leaders would not allow the proposal even to be considered by representatives.
“There is a grassroots groundswell of support for this legislation,” Gumm said. “We see it in Oklahoma and we have seen it in other states. Republican legislators and governors in other states have championed bills like ‘Nick’s Law,’ and we had strong support from many Republicans in the Oklahoma Senate.
“In the entire nation, it was only the Republican leadership in the Oklahoma House of Representatives that made the issue partisan.”
Gumm said there is significant support for the bill among rank-and-file members of the House Republican caucus. “We knew there were enough votes to pass the bill if Republican leaders had just given it a fair hearing and allowed their members to vote their conscience,” he said.
Four Republican representatives – Reps. Doug Cox of Grove, David Dank of Oklahoma City, Charlie Joyner of Midwest City, and Scott Martin of Norman – even signed a petition to force a vote on “Nick’s Law” during the 2008 session. Then, after a House Republican meeting, no other GOP lawmakers would sign despite many having expressed support for the bill.
House leaders recently conducted a legislative study on autism and the state services provided to families struggling with the bio-neurological condition. Parents of autistic children who attended the study meetings expressed frustration that the private insurance component was hardly discussed.
“House leaders chose to ignore the ‘elephant in the room,’ and that is the role insurance must play in the battle against the epidemic of autism,” Gumm said. “They have desperately tried to make a case against ‘Nick’s Law,’ and despite all their efforts, the bill still came out as the top priority of the most respected child advocacy organization in the state.
“Oklahomans are very good at seeing through smoke screens.”
Gumm said a new version of “Nick’s Law” is already written and will be introduced “at the first possible moment” for consideration during the 2009 session. He said he is becoming more hopeful every day the bill will pass next year.
“Parents of children with autism know what it takes to overcome challenges,” he said. “The legislative obstacles put in their path by a handful of powerful legislators is nothing compared to what they have already overcome in caring for their children.
“When you get to know these parents, you understand far more about ‘family values’ than you can ever learn from the empty rhetoric of politicians who either cannot or will not stand for those who have no voice.”